Briefing on Coronavirus
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Previous editions of this newsletter are available at https://www.facebook.com/RayRussellforNC (scroll down the timeline).

Beginning next week, this newsletter will be sent/published once a week, usually on Fridays. An article below describes this change.

Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Saturday morning, May 30, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 1,801,159. We are sure more people have the virus who have not been tested. Sadly, 104,749 people have died from coronavirus.

In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 27,793. That’s in increase of 1158 in the past 24 hours. Currently, 638 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. To date, 929 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus. 14,954 are presumed to have recovered.

The NC DHHS “Dashboard” continues to evolve including new data and graphs. See https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.

Locally, the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Ashe County is 34. The number of Watauga County residents who have tested positive is 19. Four people in the district are currently hospitalized. One person has died in Ashe County from coronavirus.

In Ashe and Watauga Counties, 38 residents are currently being monitored, and 26 residents are currently in isolation who have tested positive. Almost daily, both counties are finding residents testing positive for coronavirus.

AppHealthCare continues to add data to their Dashboard. See https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/covid-19-data-dashboard/.

Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.

Testing Locations
The availability of testing continues to increase. Information about available locations can be found at:
In Ashe County, https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-testing-locations-in-ashe-county/
In Watauga County, https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-testing-locations-in-watauga-county/ plus the CVS Pharmacy on Blowing Rock Road in Boone.

Risk Factors for Severe Illness
We have always know (and said) that most people with coronavirus will have a mild to moderate illness. This week NC DHHS updated its guidance for “Risk Factors for Severe Illness”, see https://files.nc.gov/ncdhhs/documents/files/covid-19/Risk-Factors-for-Severe-Illness-from-COVID-19.pdf. 42% of North Carolinians have at least one underlying heath condition putting them at higher risk.

“Safer at Home”
Phase 2 of the process to relax physical distancing requirements related to Covid-19 has been effect now for over one week. For more information about the Executive Order:
A summary is available at https://files.nc.gov/covid/documents/Phases-List.pdf
A “Frequently Asked Question” document is at https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/Phase-2-FAQ.pdf
Details of Executive Order 141 can be found at https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO141-Phase-2.pdf

To my knowledge, the only additional requirements in House District 93 are the following:
In Watauga County, short-term rentals must be operated at 50 percent of occupancy capacity (with an exception for immediate families).
In the Town of Boone beginning June 2, businesses are required to provide one-way aisles, employees must wear masks indoors, plus a few other requirements for business operations.

High School Graduation
Watauga County is holding High School Graduation ceremonies today. Ashe County postponed graduation until July 25.

I’m so sorry the Covid-19 Pandemic altered so much of the last three months of our graduates’ high school career including graduation ceremonies and celebrations. I hope each graduate and their families find ways to celebrate with the same joy in spite of these unique circumstances.

To every Graduate: Whatever you planned to do with your life last February is still out there. Hang in there, and know that better days are ahead. You’ve got this!

Thursday Votes in the NC House
This week, the NC House took up 14 bills. Most were simple matters with local or regional impact, only two bills received significant debate. The bills specifically related to Covid-19 were:
HB 1063 – Fund VIPER Tower Hardware Upgrades. It authorized the use of CARES Act money to upgrade this important system used by emergency responders and many others across the state.
HB 1169 – Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020. The bill provides funding and process changes so that 2020 elections can be conducted securely and safely.
HB 536 – Temp Outdoor Restaurants for Outdoor Seating. – Described below.

I have described HB 1169 in previous newsletters (See https://www.facebook.com/RayRussellforNC/posts/2888866681223906.) It’s a good example of what can happen when legislators work together for the good of people and process.

In stark contrast, HB 536 became a needless hyper-partisan vote. Like most really bad bills, it had some reasonable aspects—most notably, a proposal to allow more customers in outdoor seating at restaurants. The bill also would have opened bars (“private bars and clubs”) for outdoor seating. However, sponsors wrapped rotten stuff inside the bill. The bad part was a provision added by the NC Senate limiting the Governor’s, counties’, and municipalities’ authority to change these requirements even if a new covid-19 outbreak occurred.

I voted “no” on HB 536. We don’t need to change lines of authority in the middle of a crisis. The bill passed, but I do not believe it will be come law. A more constructive process would have been to take the requests to the pandemic team and ask them to modify guidance in the context of the larger battle against covid-19. (And that may yet happen.) I’ll note that the pandemic team modified guidance for vineyards and breweries just one week ago in response to requests from me and many others.

This Newsletter Going Forward
In March, it was clear that we were facing one of the most challenging crises in our lifetimes. In light of the seriousness, uncertainty and life-changing nature of the pandemic, we needed a regular, frequent, non-partisan, factual process for communicating with you. Thus, the newsletter (that had been published since I took office in January 2019) evolved into the Coronavirus Newsletter. We did our best to choose topics most important in order for you to make informed decisions for the health of you and your family. We started daily, went to weekdays, and then to 3 days per week as events demanded.

Beginning next week, NC House leadership terminates rules allowing Representatives to work and vote remotely. That change will make a daily or even 3-day per week newsletter impossible. So, we’ll transition to a weekly schedule, probably every Friday. However, on a given week because of other duties, it might need to be another day. Also, as special events occur, we will push emails and social media posts for the event.
Finally, as the NC State Legislature transitions to taking up a broader range of bills, the scope of the newsletter needs to return back to a broader focus. I’ll still report on coronavirus but will cover other topics from Raleigh and NW North Carolina.

My team has made thousands of calls to people in the district during the past two months. Almost every call I personally made included being told “thanks” for this newsletter. My reaction is “I’m just trying to do my job in the midst of a crisis,” but I am glad so many found the content and frequency of newsletters useful.

Stay well!
Ray

If You have Coronavirus Symptoms…
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Watauga County:
1) Call AppHealthCare at 828-264-4995 or (828) 795-1970 during regular business hours,
2) Visit https://apprhs.org/covid19-screening/ online and follow screening instructions, or
3) Call your primary care doctor.

If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Ashe County call AppHealthCare at 336-246-9449 or call your primary care doctor.

More Information
Our public heath office, AppHealthCare, is the primary local source of information about coronavirus. See https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/

For more information from our hospitals, see Appalachian Regional’s website at https://apprhs.org/COVID19/ or Ashe Memorial Hospital’s website at https://www.ashememorial.org/ for their updates.

For information specific to North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) provides the latest information on COVID-19 at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/Also, North Carolina coronavirus updates are available by calling 888.892.1162 or by texting COVIDNC to 898211